The Power of Ten Show

Scott Smith ‘How to Future’

John Carter
January 9, 2020
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The Power of Ten Show
January 9, 2020

Scott Smith ‘How to Future’

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Episode Transcript

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Andy: Hi, and welcome to Power of Ten, a podcast about design operating at many levels. Zooming out from the thoughtful detail through to organisational transformation and onto changes in society in the world. My name is Andy Polaine, I’m a designer, educator, and writer.

My guest today is Scott Smith, founder and managing partner of Changeist since 2007. Scott points the way for the team’s research and manages partnerships and strategic direction for the group. His work focuses on guiding large organisations towards better futures by blending foresight, narrative design, and strategic thinking. His team has worked with UNICEF, the Red Cross, the Royal Society, and the Dubai Future Foundation, as well as the BBC, Comcast and Nesta. Scott heads the strategic foresight program for Dubai Future Academy and lectures in the innovation and future-thinking program at IED Barcelona, which he helped create. He co-hosts the Underfutures Podcast and is writing a book on futuring to be published summer 2020. Scott, welcome to Power of Ten.

Scott: Thank you.

Andy: I’ve given you the quite bio there, but you talk in your manifesto at Changeist about how experience matters and you didn’t just become futurists overnight, so can you tell me a little bit about how you got from where you were to where you are now?

Scott: Sure. I started out in the technology forecasting field in the early 1990s and kind of stumbled into it through an interest both in tech and culture and economics and I like to think about in broader systems. I guess what I didn’t know at the time was, I was doing something else in that role most of my colleagues were quantitative forecasters and building spreadsheet projections. I was asked to think about and provide analysis about technologies that didn’t exist yet. This is the early days of the web and the internet. I found myself more and more coming up with models and ways of understanding how people might use particular new innovations in the future. After doing that for seven or eight years, reading more about what was going on around me in other sectors and professions, I realised that I was doing the wrong thing in the right profession, I guess.

That I was doing more qualitative forecasting and modelling in another field. I found my way to more people like me working in a larger organisation with people who called themselves futurists who actually had masters and PhDs in the field of strategic foresight. Found a better home for applying the way that I thought, the way that I processed the world. Through that, I guess about three or four years of working in that setting, then, well, now we’re 12 plus years into having Changeist as an agency, we’ve been working in this for a long time. Looking not just at technology and how people use it, but looking much more at a broad spectrum of issues around the world, changes in society and culture, changes in economic and business, changes in politics is an area I’m particularly interested in. Environment and sustainability in the natural world, all of these things tied together. Effectively, been working as a futurist in the field of foresight for about 15 years. We’ve come to it through a long process.

Andy: That’s long enough to know whether some of your track record is actually panned out. How is it going?

Scott: The killer question.

Andy: I’ll start with the hard one.

Scott: That’s fine. I think there are a couple of ways to look at that, the work that we do isn’t about prediction or even point forecasting. We’re not looking to be right at a distance in the future, a particular timescale in the future as much as we’re trying to understand more about what we don’t know and how the world works. I think if you look at it in a broad picture, some of the issues that we’re looking at a decade, fifteen years ago, for example, I stumbled over one the other day looking at the convergence of health and technology around personal fitness and pulled out a report we’d writing I think in 2008, looking at what’s now basically describing Peloton.

We were talking about Fit Bit the year they started up and exploring the directions of these particular innovations might go based mainly on the shifts in how healthcare is delivered and how people look after themselves. That’s one example. Forecasting on the opening of the Chinese market over a decade ago, looking at personal communications and the evolution of mobile, pretty good analysis, pretty solid analysis of how that market would mature and develop its own producers. Technology manufacturers. There are individual areas and topics here and there where we actually were closer than not, but the key is, what we’re learning by digging into those topics and understanding what we don’t know about them over time.

Andy: Yes. It’s interesting. I rejigged my blog the other day and I’ve been writing it for a long time, 12/13 years. It meant going through every single post to correct some kind of gremlins and stuff in it, which was interesting too because there were things that I wrote in 2006 or something, saying, I think this is going to happen to telcos or this. There were two or three things where I thought, wow, I really got that or at least the arc of it right. I think some of the details and some of the timing of it is often off.

Now, I talked about in the introduction, you blend foresight and narrative design and strategic thinking. There’s a mix of understanding systems, really looking at some facts and figures, plus, futurist is everyone from yourself—people like Bruce Sterling, Mark Pesce—will have a real mix of extrapolating into the future, there’s the narrative science fiction kind of part of it, which I guess is where Bruce Sterling comes from, though to much more hardcore, the spreadsheet strategy stuff that you were just talking about leaving behind. Could you talk a little bit about your methodology without getting too heavy in it? Particularly, we just touched on it a little bit, the difference between futurism and predication?

Scott: Sure, I think it’s a pretty opaque field from the outside and even from the inside sometimes, trying to work out definition because you’re on the one hand trying to move towards a standardisation or at least people understand what they mean when they use a word. On the other side, the pressure for competitive differentiation. Every time you tamp down one phrase, another one pops up somewhere else. I think as I’ve just described, I actually came from a grounded research background, both initially and more data forecasting, but really, my interests grew around the area of qualitative research. Basically, what you’d understand as almost design research. Doing in-depth interviewing, observational research, studies, and about the time that I got into this field more directly as a more focused practice, there were the early fusion of design practices I guess is probably the best way to think about it, with the field of foresight.

I had the good fortune to work with the internal futures team at Nokia back in the early 2000s at a time when they were really innovating and bringing together ethnographers and anthropologists and material designers, psychologists, sociologists, bringing together a lot of different people with a lot of different insights into a single space to think about what we know and don’t know about understanding a particular future. I think our general methodology is, as much as is an arc or spine through the middle of it is a basis of doing solid research up front, as much as can be done, given a particular topic or subject. Actually, being thorough, not just about looking into a topic when someone asks us about it but maintaining an ongoing sensing and curiosity and keeping track of what we find and learn about the world.

Using that as a base to then do some sense-making and using different models to understand the relations and impacts between different trends and driving forces and factors. Then I think what we’ve discovered around design is that not only are there other different ways to gain insight on the world that isn’t just coming from data or from desk research, but also how you tell stories about potential futures? How do you actually materialise scenarios and stories and narratives about a possible future in a way that other people can interrogate and engage with it?

I think that’s where we have found our strength in recent years, is combining the solid research base and the ability to tell a story so that other people can dig into it and critique it and understand it more deeply, so we can learn something from it. The goal of this work isn’t just to come up with an amazing idea about the future or describe some sci-fi situation, but to use that narrative as a tool to get more deeply into what we can now understand better about a possible future, so we can come back to the present and design better for it, plan better for it, strategize better for it.

Andy: Do you find that trying to build that narrative is actually the harder part? My experience of this now, and I do one of the Fjord trends’ team, but also, I generally have a systems’ thinking approach to the work we do. We were talking just before we were recording about the difference between products and systems and the complexity difference, as well, but part of that is you can see how all of these things connect together, especially if you really immerse yourself in it. There are multiple if this then that kind of loops and threads that come up. Once you’re immersed in it, you can see this and imagine this possible future, but to then just present that to someone, it seems like such a leap. Part of the challenge I would imagine is shaping a narrative where effectively, it’s a sequence of, if this, then that, if this, then that, if this then that, to actually explain it to people. Take people along the journey with you. Is that a challenge for you?

Scott: It is a challenge, it’s a definite challenge because if you do this work and you like doing this work, your mind travels in a lot of different directions simultaneously. It’s like anything else, you can stall yourself out by trying to map all of the connections, trying for a perfect model and to get into all of the nuances of everything would be impossible and kind of counterproductive. Imagine doing that in user research, you could carry on forever if clients and budgets didn’t stop you. I think the key is to know, when you feel like you know enough to make an informed decision and to move ahead, but also, it’s an iterative process of trying to establish enough of a – we think about it as a wireframe. This is a design term. We think about the narrative as the wireframe. When do we have a sufficient story here or a sufficient amount of information that we can collectively understand it through a narrative? I think the term I’ve written about before is lossy futures.

It’s like lossy audio. The brain can fill in the pieces that are missing, we don’t have to tell everybody everything. That’s sufficient because if you understand what you’re looking at, then you realise, this is a piece of insight, the story itself, it shouldn’t just be seen as a story, it’s a way of communicating something we’ve learned or understand. I also think of it as a box, it’s a container, a vessel that contains many more bits of insight and data. In a way, the story or the artefact, the design object, the experience is a virus. It has a carrying container, but then it has a payload of information inside. That may sound a little bit too dry, but it’s why humans tell stories. It’s a way of shortcutting the long explanation of: Over in that valley, there are lots of bison and really, we should have a party that goes and captures them. You can just paint a few on the cave wall and cut to the chase.

Andy: Okay. How often do you encounter denial in your work, where you’re presenting or painting a future, a possible future and you’re being met with, well, we just don’t think that’s going to happen? Does that ever happen?

Scott: It happens all the time. I mean, I think, well, I should back up on that. Hopefully, we are trusted, people have some faith that we’re doing our jobs right, so I would say more often these days, the sentiment is that, “I’m sceptical, but tell me more. Explain to me, help me understand why you think that?” Part of that is a kind of competition between the future that and individual or an organisation may strongly want and what reality actually presents. What the indications are pointing at? This is no different than when I used to do quant forecasting. People will disagree, I think the key is to say, look, this isn’t, again, exactly the way things are going to unfold. It’s a direction we’re pointing to, to understand something more clearly, so that you can take more concrete action by anticipating it. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to present a future packaged as fact, but I think that the other element is giving people a look inside the work. I think if you treat this practice as a black box, you create problems for yourself. It can be presented as magical and so complicated no one can understand it, but honestly, our point of view is that basically anybody can approach this work and do this work to some extent, but you need to understand what you’re looking at. I think opening up the process, giving people a sense of the building blocks, how we arrive at certain conclusions is really key to helping mitigate that issue of scepticism.

Andy: It’s interesting because what you’re describing is also the similar challenge that you have with any kind of synthesis, which is balancing, keeping your mind, or the possibilities as open as long as you can with the fact that at some point, you have to converge on one or several possible interpretations of that synthesis. How do you go about that?

Scott: I think it becomes a question of feel after a while. You have a sense; you have an experience as to when are we reaching the edge of the horizon of usefulness? Can we effectively get something that’s good enough or quite useful or maybe very valuable from coming back to convergence, I think? This is very much a; you have a to guide and Sherpa people through the process with you and help them also feel what those contours look like. Most clients, organisations don’t have experience in this area.

They’re really curious, like the level of interest has grown substantially in the past decade because of the uncertainty just about everybody faces in any area of their life or business, but taking people along with you so they can get a sense of those contours and understand, I think we’ve got enough here, we can begin to come to some conclusions based on what we have, rather than having to, as I said earlier, carry on and map all systems forever. They also count on us to have some level of that embedded knowledge, as well, they don’t have to see all of it. They trust us that it’s like a lawyer, you hire them because they’ve practiced law, they have a sense of where to stop and where to go on.

Andy: I mean one of the things with the classic things designers always complain about is everyone’s a design, right? Everyone has an opinion about things. Does that happen to you that everyone has an opinion about the future because they’ve been reading Wired and the FT?

Scott: Yes, well, that’s also an occupational hazard. It’s a good thing because it means that people have interest, but it also means you’re challenging, in the past, I’ve called them flat-pack futures, that if you don’t have the process or the framework in place to formulate your own, the easiest thing to do is to take one off a shelf. That shelf may be someone’s opinion in the economist or wired, it may be the last Ted Talk you heard, or it might be the last best-selling book you read. Or Bezos or Musk has a world view, that’s how humans work. We appropriate other realities. I think the key is to contextualise that for people and help them understand what is it you’re looking at and what have you brought to the table and what do we have? How can we constructively work those two things together and maybe you’ll lose some of yours but let’s create one of your own, so you actually own this view of the future, rather than picking it up on the street.

Andy: Yes, I can see. One of the designer secret superpowers that I often talk about is their ability to make abstract ideas tangible, whether it’s in sketches or actually being able to make something, you’ve worked with Super Flux and a couple of other speculative designers. You talked before about the payload being the idea, but the actual design things, the manifestation of those things before the carrier for that. What role does speculative design play in explaining or manifesting the futures that you’re imagining?

Scott: Speculative design has been a really useful tool for this field, in that, it’s raised the awareness and possibilities about using objects and experiences as a way of communicating ideas. I kind of came from this, and this is meaningless, for most people, probably a meaningless distinction, I came from the design fiction side of the discussion, which I feel like comes more from applied futures approach. Again, the distinction is probably meaningless except if you think about speculative design as a tool of critique, all of those practices together, whatever label you put on it has given us a new workbench, a set of tools to use to materialise particular futures, guide investigation of them, help dig into them, but also I think it’s come at an age in time when you’ve got a generation of, let’s call them information consumers, decision-makers who have grown up in an experience culture, where the future literally does arrive on their table-top on a daily basis.

So I think using objects, stories, media narrative experiences as a way of communicating these possibilities has been incredibly useful. We ourselves, working internally, continue to experiment a lot with it, playing much more on the media side now because we’re not product designers, we have a couple of designers on the team, but they don’t really see them as functioning that way. I guess we’re keen on finding new ways to tell stories that help conserve the same ends as an object, as a narrative object that’s really exciting because we have a science fiction writer that works with us, Madeline Ashby, who also has a degree in foresight, so she walks both sides of that line and we try to bring in approaches and tools and means of communicating from where we can pick them up.

Andy: It sounds like you’re creating the methodology as you go, as well, and Madeline is your collaborator on the book, right?

Scott: Yes, so in the process of doing this, so we’ve actually taught as well as practiced professionally for about ten years, I’ve been teaching since about 2009/2010, and in the process of that, trying to bake the work that we do or the methodology or the approach into a describable process. It’s what we teach at the future academy in Dubai. Madeline and I teaching together there, Susan Cox-Smith, my partner, teaching there, and we finally got to the point of explaining that methodology and also, those mindsets and what are we thinking about and what are the different experiences of doing this in a book that’s going to be out next July, July 2020, called: How to Future.

Andy: I love the fact that it’s going to be out in July 2020. It’s just always going to be out, maybe you never publish it.

Scott: Don’t say that, no, please. No, it’s interesting.

Andy: It’s available for pre-order already.

Scott: It’s available for pre-order. I think the various Amazons around the world have got it available. The 2020 timing is kind of interesting, now just because it’s a nice round iconic number that feels like the future, yes, but it also is coming at a time when uncertainty is building. We’re facing elections, Brexit, climate change, so many major transitions in health and energy and all of these other areas. It feels like a really full moment to be bringing something like that to people. Hopefully, it’s a good timing.

Andy: Absolutely. There’s definitely a massive amount of change going on at the moment. Part of me feels like, well, the world is going through this incredible shift and I think of Alvin Toffler, a famous futurist and his in the third way, of this idea of waves sweeping around the world, then other waves receding as they’re sweeping. You get this riptide, this friction between the two. It feels like there’s quite a lot of that going on right now. On the other hand, part of me will think t’was ever thus, the world has always been very changing, we’re just hearing about it an awful lot more than we used to. You’ve talked about part of your role is helping organisations and companies, your clients think about the future, think about keeping the bits of the future they want and leaving behind the past that they don’t. Given that t’was ever thus idea, how much agency does any organisation really have in keeping the bits of the future and leaving parts behind?

Scott: That’s a really good question, that’s probably a graduate seminar as an answer. Or at least the second book. I think it’s important to on the one hand, not take the view that a lot of science-fiction propagates, that you have this Tabula Rasa Future, like everything is wiped out, we start fresh. Spend five minutes in the tube in London and look at the walls around you, you’ll see the secretive layers of the Victorian Foundations, the Edwardian electrics, the probably still the Edwardian carriages.

Andy: Multiple promises of glossy futures in the advertising.

Scott: Absolutely. I think Steward Brand described this really well when he described pacing layers, pace layers. The idea that there are bits of the world that move slowly and bits of it move quite quickly. Being able to get a sense of how that traffic moves is helpful to understanding. There are any number of metaphors, we talk about it sometimes as shipping forecasts or whether maps, how do you understand where you are in this world? I think partly because of the connectedness you just described, the level of agency in some ways has gone up exponentially in the sense that we may not be sitting physically next-door to something, but the ability to affect change around the world often in a not positive way is actually substantial right now because of that transparency. We’re effectively the financial and news markets are wired into our brain stems. I think organisations absolutely can because you’re either anticipating and taking a prototyping and shaping a forward-leaning position in what you’re doing, or you’re reacting. Reacting takes a lot more energy and gives you the results that the other party want you to have. Without turning it into a sports or fights metaphor, I think any of us, you have to be able to make active choices about what works for you and what works for the system that you sit inside and hopefully, what works for society more broadly. I think looking at stuff like climate change right now, if you think about agency, we could just say, this is a complex system and there’s nothing that can be done about it. Or important nodes in the system can start moving in a different direction and affect systematic change over time that could be substantial.

Andy: Changing some of the nodes and the interactions of those nodes does start to change the entire system, right?

Scott: Absolutely. We see that in politics very much right now, the emergence of new nodes in the system, whether it’s populism, or networked democracy, whatever, all of these things begin to reshape the function of that system over time. Yes, I think there are a lot of issues right now that are getting people more interested in understanding all of the connections around them and how they can affect it.

Andy: Taking that systems view of things; I think one of the key things of that system’s thinking is the idea of feedback loops that you can push levers on and a lever that would produce a good thing. The temptation is to just push even harder to produce more of a good thing, but tip it over into an actual negative feedback loop. A lot of what we’re seeing is this overreaction all the time. It’s hard not to think that the pace of communication creates this action/reaction oscillations that’s happening much, much faster than it ever used to when people had time to think about things, or the president had time to think about something before he wrote a letter that then went through another writer to polish it up, rather than just blasting out a Tweet, because that creates those very high-frequency oscillations and the archetype of this is obviously like high-frequency trading, where suddenly, you get a flash crash, where everything crashes and nobody really knows why. It’s like these reactions in the complex system. It feels that’s going back to what we were saying before, it feels like in some respects, the world is as it ever used to be, but our reactions to it are so fast that we create our own chaos.

Scott: Absolutely. I think the high-frequency trading example is probably really good. That it’s an unstable system because yes, the distance between nodes seems so shortened. Like you said, there’s a reason why we have, in some cases, layers of government or systems that can help mitigate shock in some ways. Too much of that is a bad thing because it insulates and things become sclerotic and systems stagnate, but I think you can go too far in the other direction and adopt a cybernetics kind of mindset where everything is a perfectly balanced system that can be controlled through certain key interventions. I think that is dangerous to over systematize it. Back to our just enough description discussion earlier. I think one of the most important things, back to your last question, in a way is understanding where are the key leverage points and you can use those for good, you can intervene in humanitarian crisis or you can intervene in negative health phenomenon, those sorts of things. Or you can change the actors in a system in a way that can help mitigate problems. Or you can over intervene and try to become, I think the theoretical term is super actor, where you can intervene in brittle systems and attack them to negative ends. This is basically terrorism. It’s how it works. A small group of people can affect major disruption.

Andy: When you work out how to hack the system, as it were.

Scott: Yes, and now, unfortunately, they’re getting better at doing that from a distance with less effort. I think the same approach tells us how a community can intervene to improve local health standards, or how do we deal with migration, or the sorts of issues that we like to focus much more on that learn from that, but also actually produce some kind of net good in the world rather than just manufacturing a future for the sake of it.

Andy: That’s interesting, it’s the same mentality in many respects. Well, not mentality, it’s the same understanding that there’s a system here and it takes this form and it’s got these structures, but actually, it’s got some points where you can apply leverage or you can create change or nudge it in a different direction.

Scott: Yes, it can give you Donald Trump, it can give you Greta Thunberg. It can give you brilliant local community organisations doing amazing things, or it can give you toxic corporate activity. It’s largely where you want to point it and what you see as the benefit?

Andy: It’s hard to escape sustainability, obviously, and the climate crisis when talking about any of this particular talk about future. Even though, as we talked before, the limits to growth, when was the limits to growth published?

Scott: ’71, I think. I should know this.

Andy: Early 70s, yes. The insurance companies have been talking about the impact of climate change since the 50s, at least, 50s/60s, so it’s not like this is new and they’ve taken a systematic view. I know it’s an interest of yours, but either in that or in general, are there any patterns or future signals that you’re looking at that you’re finding particularly interesting at the moment that you’re able to talk about?

Scott: Sure, I think, we’re in the early stages of a new project that’s getting into this and having just returned from LA and experienced first-hand the slow permanent emergency, I think is what one writer called it, this is the fires that will actually never go out, that we are rethinking or probably recognizing honestly that we’re now moving much more into a world where we have to figure out ways to manage risk, not eliminate risk in terms of climate and manage the transition in the system that we live in. I think there’s a lot more chatter and conversation going on amongst people in the futures field, people who are working in sustainability futures around how do we actually live with this? Versus a conversation of how do we completely eliminate or change it? Again, the system is tipped already to some extent. That, again, poses a different set of questions. It’s now shifting from how do we try to hit a particular target and swerve and miss the crisis to how do we adapt and find ways to yield the best out of the situation that we’re in, while we’re still trying to stop the progress.

That’s, again, a complicated challenge to present to people. You can either fall over into a state of grief, or just ball yourself up into nothing but position action. I think somewhere in the middle is a balance of, again, how do we remap and understand this system that we’re sitting in, honestly, confront the indicators that we’re seeing. We can’t just pretend away sea level rise or temperature increase or population movement. That’s the hard data that’s sitting there. I think we’re going to need everybody, including a lot of brilliant people in design to think about how you reframe or recreate a world where we have to keep things moving and only give ourselves the space to mitigate that risk while we adapt to this broader situation.

That’s a very different way of thinking about things, it probably reflects more of where Meadows’ and Randers’ heads were when they wrote Limits to Growth in the early 70s. I got into a van at a conference recently in Frankfurt and Jørgen Randers hopped in on the other seat and I was stunned to think, while here I am in 2019, sitting across from this brilliant thinker who wrote this book when I was starting school. Luckily, we’re all still alive and we have this moment to meet, but we didn’t really do a lot with what they gave us. We’re paying the price for it now. I think it was a good reminder to get back to work.

Andy: A question that’s a bit of an oxymoron, but if I can’t ask you, I can’t ask anyone, which is out of all of those things that you’re seeing, what’s the biggest unknown? Where do you feel we have a real blind spot here? Of course, by definition a blind spot is a blind spot so you don’t know it, but like I say, your job is partly to at least see the effects of the antimatter and say, there’s something here, I don’t know what it is, but I feel like we have a blind spot here.

Scott: I think there are a couple of areas, I think the biggest one is clearly climate. That is the system we’re sitting in. We haven’t talked about it enough. You can’t really talk about it enough, but I think there we’re describing our ability to even continue to think about other unknowns. There’s so much variability in the modelling of how that may behave, we really don’t know. that can affect everything. I think beyond that, there are probably more mundane issues of political systems and how they will tip one way or the other. Again, we’re balanced finally right now on the edge of falling either towards autocracy broadly for decades or centuries or finding a different form of democracy and representation going forward. Those are big systems’ questions. Little things like quantum computing I stay up late and read about because those could fundamentally change not just the fabric of computation that sits underneath everything, but how we even understand the universe. Small thoughts for late nights.

Andy: Talking of which, we’re coming up to the end. I have a question that I ask all of the guests, you all know the Eames film: The Powers of Ten and that relationship between different sizes of powers of ten in the universe. Can you think of one small thing that has an outsized effect on the world? Either something that already exists or something you feel like should be paid more attention to?

Scott: For some reason, the term language sticks in my head, that’s not a small thing, it’s kind of a universal but I think we tend to dismiss it as a small thing on a daily basis. I can’t really point to an object or a product or a small idea, but I feel like we dismiss language as the wallpaper of our lives, but we’re seeing the incredible power of very small packets of language, of ideas, or of words of sentiment. You mentioned it earlier, one poorly written letter to another world leader or a Tweet, or just a single packet of data, a couple of words you tell somebody in a hallway passing. I think because of the world we live in; I feel like language is that massive lever that can either lift ideas or utterly disrupt entire complex systems.

Andy: I think when you and I last met, when we were talking, you live in Holland, and I live in Germany, we were both talking about this thing of when you learn a new language, particularly when you learn a new language as an adult, you suddenly have this realisation that how much we must misunderstand each other all day even in your own language. I agree, I can see how language is a huge – it’s a remarkable thing because it obviously makes everything actually work. I think it’s probably allowed us to store knowledge and pass it on and all of that stuff, but I’ve even in Australia when everyone was obviously speaking English in Australia and it’s easy to feel like, this is my language and everyone understands people, I don’t notice. There were certain things that I would say sometimes that would trigger reactions that I didn’t really understand. It didn’t make sense to me; it was clearly because of the cultural history of that. I guess you probably must have that too in Holland.

Scott: Well, it allows us to live in these alternate realities, right, you live in a small Angelo sphered bubble as do we and as an English language office sitting in a Dutch-speaking street in another country. We’re keenly aware of the delicacy of individual language, but even back to the futures’ issue, how you position something, how you describe it can carry a very big payload and help people either understand it or misunderstand it. I feel like as a language student of college, it’s an important bit overlooked, small low-tech piece of utility.

Andy: Low-tech but pretty essential to everyday life. Scott, where can we find you? Changeist is how you might think it’s spelt; it’s Change and Ist on the end .com. Are you on Medium, as well?

Scott: On Medium and I think it’s the extension @changeist. On Twitter @changeist. Basically, any platform you look for us, that’s probably where you can find us. Probably in the next few months, we’ll be ramping up and how-to future for the book, as well.

Andy: Right, so we’ll put a link to the pre-order. I’m really looking forward to it, so How-to Future, Leading and Sense-Making in an Age of Hyper Change. You also have a podcast as well called: Under Future.

Scott: Yes. Madeline Ashbee and I run a podcast; we’ve had one for this year. I think we’re in season one is what we’re calling it. Trying to get at some of these underdiscussed issues about the future. What are the topics that don’t get picked up and in the more shiny excited discussion about the future?

Andy: I was listening to the ghost smart cities one the other day. That was really interesting.

Scott: Recorded, yes, it recorded in the middle of an empty smart city or an almost empty smart city in the desert. Sometimes we take it on location.  

Andy: Yes, it’s crazy to think of something so futuristic already a ghost town.

Scott: That’s what we do. That’s how we try to understand where we’ve been before and where we may be going. There are some things there right now, it’s a beautiful construction, but it’s important to look at something like that and ask the question, what was planned and why hasn’t it happened exactly that way? From that, we can learn.

Andy: I thought you were about to say, “What were we thinking?” There’s a very good blog called Paleo Future which is the history of the future by a guy called Matt Novak and he finds all of this old material about projects into the future, whether it’s from Walt Disney or all of these old prospectuses or leaflets or videos he finds. It’s brilliant. It’s a really good reminder that we generally get the future terribly wrong.

Scott: Yes. I think it’s Philip Teplock who talks about, if you want to become a better forecasting or thinker about the future, you need to be able to learn from mistakes of past forecasts. I think there’s a lot to be entertained by with those, but also a lot to figure out, why do we keep thinking this way in loops?

Andy: Well, quite a lot of the arcs, though, are kind of correct, but the actual technology itself changes.

Scott: Well, I use it in teaching. It’s a useful tool to say, look, hubris can be dangerous. If people who are smarter than you before you were wildly miss guessing that we might float in the air above Paris in our ball gowns and go to the opera in flying cars. We’re not quite there yet. Give it a couple of years.

Andy: Scott, thank you very much for being my guest on Power of Ten.

Scott: Thank you, Andy, it’s been a pleasure.

Andy: You can find the transcript of Power of Ten on, where you’ll also find the other podcasts on the network. My name is Andy Polaine, you’ll find me online as @apolaine no Twitter and most other places and also, Thanks for listening and see you next time.

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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